There is little chance of you coming across a black mamba near the water’s edge when you are out fishing, because firstly, they don’t generally hunt their prey near water, and secondly, being very shy and antisocial, they would have moved on as soon as they heard you coming! However, you may encounter them on your way to the water, especially if you have to trek through bush and have to climb over rocks and kopjies – which is where black mambas live! I have to confess, and I’m sure most honest fisherman would agree that the best fishing spots are those that you can drive to, with the minimum amount of walking and carting of tackle and beer. This also lessens the chance of meeting snakes along the way.
Mambas are usually the villains in all good snake stories but it’s amazing the number of people who cannot identify a mamba when they see one close up. Of course it’s safer to just assume that all snakes you see must be mambas. Black mambas are, in fact, not black at all but vary from a slate grey to a dark olive green or brown. The proper name for them is black-mouthed mamba as the inside of the mouth is black. However, not many people take the trouble to confirm this!
More often than not you will find that the very dark grey or black snakes are snouted cobras and although they will rear up and spread a hood if cornered, usually they will just try and escape without spreading a hood. Incidentally, black mambas also spread a small hood but they will also gape their mouths, which the cobra doesn’t normally do.
Few of the stories you hear about mambas are true, but they are considered one of the most dangerous snake s in Africa and in fact in the world. They are very large, very fast and are highly venomous and will seldom hesitate to defend themselves when cornered. However, they do not attack people unprovoked or and will make every effort to escape. Being very shy and timid, mambas avoid built up areas and try and keep away from houses and other buildings where there is human habitation. Mopani squirrels are their staple diet or preferred prey to any other animal, so be prepared to come across them in an area where there are lots of squirrels. Mambas will eat other small animals like dassises and also birds.
They are widespread throughout the whole of Zimbabwe but I have found them to be most common in the Zambezi Valley, especially in the Mana Pools Game Reserve, in the Matopos and in the lowveld. There is only one species of black mamba and one species of green mamba which only occurs in the Honde Valley. There are two other species of mamba that occur in Africa to the north of Zimbabwe. Interestingly, up until the 1920’s it was commonly believed that all mambas were born green and then turned black when they were exposed to the sun! the belief originated in Natal, where green mambas are fairly common along the coast and found in thick bush, whereas the black mamba was found in more open areas.
The female lays about 14 eggs around November or early December, usually in an anthill where it is moist and the temperature is warm and constant. The eggs hatch about 3 months later with the young being 400mm – 500mm long. With a good food supply they can get to 2m in the first couple of years.
Bites from these snakes are not instantly fatal, or within five minutes as is commonly believed. They are serious, however, and need attention as soon as possible. First aid measures should be to keep the victim calm and get them to a well equipped medical centre. Tourniquets are better not used and cutting near the bite a and sucking is definitely going to do more damage than good. Snakebite outfits have very dubious value as they do not carry enough serum to be of much use, and are potentially lethal if the victim is allergic to serum. MARS paramedics are the best people to contact as they generally know what to do. Bear in mind that a lot of bites may be dry-bites where the snake has not injected any venom and the victim will not require any treatment. If venom has been injected, serious symptoms will occur within 10 to 20 minutes, in the form of profuse salivation, sweating and drowsiness and probably vomiting.
Strangely enough mambas born and raised in captivity are normally very docile and not aggressive at all. Wild caught adult mambas will seldom settle down, and although they may accept food, will eventually die from stress. I have a mamba in my collection who is 23 years old, but there are records of them living more than 30 years.